Afghan Refugees Trapped Between Poland and Belarus

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Afghan refugees

Humanitarian organizations and lawyers have urged Poland to allow a group of 32 Afghan refugees trapped between their border and that of Belarus for the past three weeks.  The four women, 27 men, and one 15-year-old girl have been trapped in Usnarz Górny – a village in the Podlaskie Voivodship (province), in north-eastern Poland, according to reports on Sept. 1, 2021. The call for humanitarian assistance for the Afghan refugees comes amidst reports by the local media that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has urged President Duda to sign an ordinance declaring a state of emergency in the province.

Piotr Bystrianin of the Ocalenie Foundation, an organization that supports refugees and immigrants living in Poland, insisted that despite the draconian measures by the Polish government, his organization “will be as close to people who need help as possible.” Bystrianin further took a swipe at the current construction of the 1.5 km border fence between Poland and Belarus as a violation of the Afghan refugees and other asylum seekers in flight from persecution.

Aleksandra Fertlińska, a campaigner at Amnesty International Poland, also weighed in on the situation and said that the Afghan refugees are in desperate need of international protection because of the volatile political situation in Afghanistan. She is of the opinion that the presence of the Polish armed guards surrounding the vulnerable and unarmed Afghan refugees is a show of unnecessary force and an image of violence. It is also reported that these Afghan refugees have gone for days without food and water, and some of them have fallen sick.

The Afghan refugees find themselves caught up in a political standoff between Poland and Belarus. It is reported that Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have accused Belarus of organizing the illegal transfer of Afghan refugees into their territories. The Warsaw administration insists that the Afghan refugees trapped at the border with Belarus are not in need of international protection from Poland. They insist that these are “economic migrants” taking advantage of the current chaos in Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.

Afghan refugeesThis tension has further heightened by the Zapad-2021 military exercises in Russia and Belarus from 10-16 September 2021. The term ZAPAD translates to “West” in Russian and is a military exercise held after every four years to display the power and might of the Russian armed forces and seen by many observers as direct confrontation with NATO.

“These are not easy times, and one should make it clear that we are in a situation of a real threat,” Piotr Mueller, a government spokesman, told a Polish public television TVP. He went on to suggest that the current Afghan refugee situation at the Polish border with Belarus is a national threat “posed by both the migration operation organized by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and the Russian and Belarusian joint military exercise.”

The Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki blamed Belarus, claiming that Lukashenko’s regime is trying to destabilize Poland’s national security by “shoving” people from Iraq into their sovereign territory. Arguably, the Afghan refugees in Usnarz Górny have been used as a scapegoat by the Polish government in the name of national security.

A recent poll reveals that Poles are divided over the fate of the 32 Afghan refugees trapped at the border with Belarus. According to Notes From Poland (NFP), 45.5 percent support the Polish government for their stance against the Afghan refugees, while 42.4 percent are of the view that Warsaw has been heavy-handed in the standoff.

However, another poll published by IBRIS for Rzeczpospolita indicates that 50 percent of the respondents want Poland to take in Afghan refugees, with 26 percent against the move while 12 percent think that Poland should relax its strict refugee policy, especially on Muslim migrants and the Afghan refugees in limbo at the Polish-Belarusian border.

Human Rights Lawyers have also welcomed the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervention, which said Poland’s government must provide food, clothing, medical care, and possibly temporary shelter to the Afghan refugees trapped between Poland and Belarus. However, the ECHR has yet to rule whether Poland is obliged to let the Afghan refugees at the border enter its territory.

Written by Shepherd Mutsvara
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware

Shepherd is an International Correspondent for GLV and is currently based in Kraków, Poland.

Sources:

Notes From Poland: Only 9% of Poles favour accepting all asylum seekers at Belarus border: poll; by Daniel Tilles
Independent: Refugees denied entry to Poland ‘surviving on grass and leaves’ at Belarus border
The First News: Situation on the border with Belarus a real threat, Polish gov’t spokesman

Featured and Top Image and by Radosław Drożdżewski’s Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Sakuto’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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